Story of Wonder
We learn in 1 Chronicles 16 that telling stories of God’s goodness and giving thanks was at the center of Hebrew worship. The Israelites set aside time to practice gratitude within their worship by speaking of God’s mighty deeds and remembering his blessings, wonderful works, and faithfulness.
We’ve begun asking folks in our community to share their Stories of Wonder at our public worship. These are stories of God working in our midst, speaking, leading, and providing for his people. This gives us an opportunity to recognize and rejoice in God’s powerful deeds, and it also trains us to pay attention to how God might be at work in our own lives. This one is from Erika.
It was early afternoon and I was trying to get a power nap in before the kids got home from school. Shaken from light sleep, I heard the sound – the horrible sound of an automatic weapon – fast, loud, and furious. I waited…and hoped. Maybe no one was hit. The subsequent sirens and helicopters told me otherwise. I did what I always do – check on my people. I did a head count. This time I knew who the retaliation was for and tried to contact my friend immediately, as I assumed it was her nephew. I was hoping he wasn’t hit. Rumors fly in the midst of violence and I couldn’t contact the family directly as no one had time to answer their phones. But I knew most gun wounds go to Jackson Memorial Trauma Unit. I would go there. I am sure I would find them there.
The driving time was a welcome gift as I needed to make sure my kids were covered to be picked up from school. I am glad all the kids were still at school. What ever happened to shooting at night time, people!? I also needed to gather myself before facing such a raw reality. I had no idea what I would find.
In my quiet preparation, I became reminiscent of all the times I had been on my way to Jackson. Every time it was a tragedy. Doesn’t this hospital ever birth babies for goodness sake? Every time my adrenaline starts pumping, I start trembling, and have a moment of decision, where I would like to just forget such suffering exists and stay at home. I know the cost. Walking with those who are broken breaks my own soul. Do I want to chip away even more? But the Spirit is always near, gently reminding me that he always shows up in lament. “Erika, look for me, I will be there.” When I go towards something that I desperately want to retreat from, it seems always to be the right choice. It seems the things that I fear the most, I should know the best. I have discovered over and over that the more I am around death and around people in mourning and lament, God is especially visible. “The only response to immeasurable loss is God’s immeasurable love.” I continued on.
As I walked into the doors, I saw Kai (names changed to protect identity), my dear friend. It was her nephew who was hit. Immediately she got up and we embraced. A peace washed over me, already Jesus was here. I felt him in our silent, knowing embrace. We have so much history, she and I. I remembered the recent time we poured our hearts out in her small home before the Lord asking him to move in the midst of this violence, to move in the life of her nephew, Terrance. Surely this was part of the Lord’s movement. But such tragedy. Why, Lord?
We sat down and she told me everything. Two young men had been hit. They were NOT minor wounds. The AK-47 ripped through their flesh and each of them where undergoing stabilization procedures, surgery, and fighting for their lives. She was angry, scared, and full of deep emotion. Yet she was steadfast, immovable, abiding. Kai’s faith was strong. I was humbled by her courageous fight to keep holding on to faith. Jesus always shows up.
Then the double doors leading to the actual trauma unit opened dispelling any sense of calm. So much noise, pain, anger, urgency, and intensity blasted through those doors into the waiting room. In walked the matriarch of the family, actually a spiritual mother to our community. Ms. T’s pained face softened when she saw me and we embraced. It never ceases to amazing me how many families invite me into their intimate suffering. It is such a gift. A gift that is not lost on me. I cherish the honor it is to be invited, trusted. Her tender touch assured me I was welcome. We sat down and I held her aged hands together in mine and looked into her sweet face. A window to such wisdom, depth, love and enduring strength. Oh this woman loves Jesus. But she looked tired, really tired. She was in the house when the weapons tore apart the foundations of her home and her grandson. What ever happened to street etiquette anyway? Isn’t that shooting 101? Never when grandma is home? Geez.
What transpired after that as we waited were moments that I will cherish forever. In the midst of commotion, anxiety, uncertainty, Ms. T and I sat and looked for Jesus together. She poured her heart out to me. Our conversation seemed like a prayer itself. As she processed the event verbally and told me the details of what transpired just hours before, she gracefully wove Jesus into every part of it. Her grandson would be okay. His recovery might be long but he would be ok. We thanked Jesus. As she processed, she walked down memory lane and wanted to remember together how they were our early neighbors when we first moved in. We recalled the hard things and the sweet things. She felt one of the reasons God moved us here, was for this very moment. To be together. To cry out to the Lord on behalf of her grandson. To ask God to move in the midst of the enduring violence in our ‘hood. Together we were stronger and changed.
In looking at the issue of poverty and violence, often the first thing people want to do is figure out how to solve the problem. I have realized this is the least appropriate thing to do. It is not that solving problems or violence is not a part of it, but it is inappropriate when this is our first response. My belief is that Jesus calls us to be “with” first, to have presence with our neighbors.
The most significant thing about presence is that it breaks down the separation that assumes we can know the answer without needing to enter into the suffering person’s experience. We think, “This is terrible, we’ve got to change this.” But how can we know what to change unless we have physically, spiritually, and emotionally entered the lives of the people who are suffering the most? Is it not profound arrogance to think any one person would know what to do to alleviate the suffering of others without being in any proximity to those who suffer? When there is a not a distinction between us and them, then we become the answer together, by the grace of God.
I know Jesus is not done with Terrance. With men and women of faith like Kai and Ms. T undergirding our community, spiritually fighting on their knees with weapons of Jesus’ light, Word and abiding love, something eventually has to change. I know he is not done with all these young men. When I walk past them on the streets and see past the facade of their hard shells I see boys with hurts and losses immeasurable, trying to find their way in this world as a man, my heart stirs with deep compassion. Sometimes we catch eyes and I remind them without words, I have known them since they were in middle school and I see past their facade. They look away. But I know God is not done. Out of these blood stained grounds will come resurrection. It is with these men redeemed that God will continue a radical movement in our midst of healing, redemption, resurrection. I see them not as the threat or the enemies, but as my brothers, my sons.
Being “with” is precisely the opposite of violence, for being with means living without enemies. In the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” I close with these words from Oscar Romero: “The violence we preach is not the violence of the sword, the violence of hatred. it is the violence of love, of brotherhood, the violence that wills to beats weapons into sickles for work.”